Charlotte Hornets

Why is Charlotte Hornet Nic Batum relevant to college basketball federal trial?

Charlotte Hornets forward Nicolas Batum says he has no idea why his name would be connected to the federal trial going on in New York concerning college basketball recruiting and sneaker companies.
Charlotte Hornets forward Nicolas Batum says he has no idea why his name would be connected to the federal trial going on in New York concerning college basketball recruiting and sneaker companies. dtfoster@charlotteobserver.com

Charlotte Hornets forward Nic Batum says he’s baffled why his name was included in a document regarding individuals who might be relevant to a federal trial in New York City this week tied to the FBI’s probe of college basketball recruiting.

During jury selection, a list of several dozen names was distributed as those that could come up during testimony. Among those names: former Louisville coach Rick Pitino, Dallas Mavericks guard Dennis Smith, and No. 1 overall pick and former Arizona big man De’Andre Ayton. The list is labeled “other relevant individuals,” and federal officials said inclusion on that list does not imply wrongdoing.

The 56th name on that list: “Nicolas Batum,” right behind Arizona basketball coach Sean Miller.

Batum said he doesn’t know of any connection to the Federal investigation and hasn’t been contacted by any authorities.

Batum, asked about his inclusion by the Observer after shootaround on Tuesday, Batum replied: “You just let me know. I really have no idea.

“I’m shocked. It’s weird. I don’t know what to say.”

Jury selection began Monday in the government’s case against Merl Code, Jim Gatto and Christian Dawkins. The government alleges they had roles in funneling payments that could involve a former N.C. State assistant coach. That accusation may relate to Smith, who spent one season at N.C. State before turning pro.

Frenchman Batum never played college basketball. He made himself available for the 2008 NBA draft as a teenager, went late in the first round (25th overalll) and played his first five seasons in the NBA for the Portland Trail Blazers before being traded to the Hornets in the summer of 2015.

Batum said he had minimal contact with any college recruiters as a teenager. Someone in Europe once inquired if he’d be interested in Georgia Tech, and also whether he’d want to come to the United States for high school, but that never was more than a brief discussion.

Batum turned pro at 17, playing for Le Mans in the French Pro League before the NBA.

One possible tie to this case could be Batum having worn Adidas his first several seasons in the NBA (he is now with Jordan Brand). Adidas, which has a large corporate presence in Portland, Ore., has been part of the FBI’s probe.

“I was an Adidas guy from ’O8 until last year,” Batum said. “That’s it.”

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